Inspired by our friends at One Year On Earth, we decided to free ourselves from the burden of buses (who in our limited Laos experience, had a nasty habit of deliberately forgetting passengers) and rent a motorbike for a few days to tour southern Laos. To put our parents at ease, by motorbike, I do mean more of a motorscooter; it’s not exactly a Harley.
But we certainly did put some mileage on it. Our first day, we headed south from Pakse to Don Khon, one of the larger islands of the region of the Mekong known as Si Phan Don (4000 islands). There, we parked the bike and caught the ferry (it’s really more like hiring a boat) over to the island. There, we found a bungalow right on the river and relaxed on our balcony. The next day, we rented bikes and explored up and down the length of Don Khon and Don Det, an island connected by a defunct French train line (in fact, the only train track the French ever laid in Laos). We cycled to what was optimistically called “Niagara on the Mekong.” It resembled a rapid. We found a “beach” that was a little too covered in water buffalo feces to properly enjoy. We passed the well known French locomotive that has sat in its place ever since it quit running. So while there was no thrilling site to see, the real joy was cycling through the rice paddies, passing working farmers and their playing children.
On day three, we returned to our motorbike and headed 30 kilometers north to the largest island of Si Phan Don, Don Khong, and really, did more of the same. Having our motorbike made it easier to get around, and it was more of the same on a vaster scale. No big sites to see, but lots of little moments to enjoy and cherish. The monks studying at the Wat. The children playing by the river. The wind blowing through a rice paddy. A really pleasant, relaxing environment.
But alas, adventure compels us forward and we found ourselves the next day pushing on to Champasak, to play Indiana Jones at Wat Phou, an Angkor Era temple. Though not as impressive as its southern neighbor, Wat Phou does boast some dramatic views as you climb the stairs to the main temple.
Failing to find anywhere decent to stay in Champasak, we hightailed it back to Pakse that evening, one of the nice things about having your own transportation – you’re never stuck. Or at least so we thought. We’d know better after our last two days, which we’ll cover in part 2.